The 23rd Celtic Colours International Festival is winding down.
This was an event that those involved worked hard to put in place and they (and several thousand volunteers across the island) worked their butts off over the past nine days to make it a success. And I would say that they succeeded, big time.
There were 52 official concerts and more than 300 other events, including workshops, hikes, community meals, art shows and crafts sales, to name a few.
You could go from a community breakfast to a workshop to a community lunch to a hike to a community supper to an evening concert to the Festival Club, get a bit of sleep and repeat (with a few variations) the next day.
I did some of that myself and have seen 10 concerts (and some other events as well) before everything is over. I thought I was doing pretty good until I ran into a friend with tickets for 15 concerts and a couple from Germany who were here for their seventh festival and attending 12 shows.
Here’s a quick review of some of what I saw, as I write this mid-way through the week.
The opening concert at Centre 200 in Sydney was fabulous, easily one of the best Colours shows in 23 years.
The first half opened with a stellar performance by the Cape Breton University Pipe Band and continued with Ashley MacIsaac, joined by Scotland’s Phamie Gow and England’s Tim Edey.
The second half featured The Chieftains, making at least their fifth appearance at the festival, on what is likely their last North American tour. After all, the last original member (Paddy Moloney) is 80-plus and other current members (Matt Molloy and Kevin Conneff) are not far behind. They (and the Rolling Stones) have been performing for 57 years.
As always, the Chieftains appeared with a collection of talented friends, and their segment featured all the other concert performers as well, plus special appearances by Mary Jane Lamond, the Robin Cathcart Choir, Alyth McCormack, the Pilatzke Brothers, Irish dancers and more. It was a wild set, that included their patented finale (Miss MacLeod’s Reel plus many individual solos) and an encore that featured the CBU Pipe Band. It was quite the night.
Last Saturday I took in two shows.
The first was an afternoon event at St. Matthew's United Church in Inverness. Local musicians included Dawn and Margie Beaton, Maggie Beaton, Sarah, Elizabeth and Mary Elizabeth MacInnis, Boston's Màiri Chaimbeul and Jenna Moynihan and Scotland’s Talisk. It was a great performance by all. Sarah’s beautiful voice was one high point and another was Talisk’s extremely high energy set, which threatened to take the roof off.
That evening I hit Mabou’s Strathspey Place for This Is Howie Do It, featuring Howie MacDonald and including J.P. Cormier, Mac Morin, Hilda Chiasson, Mary Beth Carty, Allie Bennett and Aaron Lewis, plus appearances by Howie’s daughters, siblings, niece and nephews, and several special guests. The music was top-notch, the stories were wild, and the comedy was off the wall. I’m sure that the full moon helped.
On Sunday evening I was in Whycocomagh for The Cape Breton Fiddlers. There were more than 40 of the Cape Breton Fiddlers Association members on hand, under the direction of Stephanie MacDonald. Along with group numbers, Stephanie and Kinnon Beaton did solos. Mckalya MacNeil also played solo, provided music for an Eight-Hand Reel that included dancers old and young. One of the dancers was Harvey MacKinnon, a man over 80 who is still as light on his feet as ever.
The second half of the show featured Còig, who wowed the audience with a great performance. The finale was a smash hit as well. Còig’s Rachel Davis and Chrissy Crowley are both longtime members of the fiddlers association, so it was easy to combine the groups and provide the music for a list of solo dancers.
Monday, I travelled to Judique and took in Fiddle Frenzy, a concert that included mainly local talent — Brenda Stubbert, Pat Chafe, Blanche Sophocleous, Mairi Rankin and Eric Wright, Stan Chapman, Wendy MacIsaac, Allan Dewar and Patrick Gillis.
Also joining this crowd were The Fretless, an Ontario-based stringed quartet playing a Celtic/folk style with a somewhat jazzy feel. The highlight, in my mind, was Brenda Stubbert’s closing number as she reached deep into her musical soul and let it all out. The result was a powerful and emotional performance that brought on a well-deserved standing ovation.
Tuesday, I ended up in Port Morien for a pair of events. The first was a lovely meal at St. Paul’s Anglican Church hall. The food was great, but a couple of things struck me. I noticed the age of the servers and volunteers with very few being younger that myself. That does not bode well for the future. On a positive note, the hall was full of visitors. I sat with a group from Milwaukee, chatted with people from Seattle and Oklahoma and I noticed cars from New York, Maine and New Jersey as well.
The Cow Bay Ceilidh included Cape Bretoners Ian MacDougall, Tracey Dares MacNeil and Patrick Gillis, and a pair of outside acts. It was the first Celtic Colours show for Montreal-based Kaia Kater, a young bluegrass Appalachian-style performer who I had enjoyed hearing at StanFest. On the other hand, it was the final Celtic Colours show for Talisk and they put everything into it, getting the audience clapping and singing along, bringing them to their feet several times.
I also made it to the Festival Club three times, chatting with folks and enjoying some great music. The highlight at mid-week was the tribute to Festival Club host Buddy MacDonald on the occasion of his 200th consecutive show. The music started with his good friends Rachel Davis and Darren McMullen and built from there. There was about an hour of music followed by a presentation from the festival. He’ll be at 207 (and counting) when the festival is done.
I will also be going to St. Peter’s and will be making return trips for shows in Judique and Inverness before hitting the closing in Port Hawkesbury.
As we move on from Celtic Colours, there’s still lots of entertainment going at various Cape Breton venues.
Elmer Fraser has a dance planned for the Cedars Club in Sydney on Oct. 26 with Mike Hall providing the music.
Highland Arts Theatre in downtown Sydney features Derek Edwards on Thursday as well as Little Shop of Horrors (Oct. 29-Nov. 3), Rumours: The Ultimate Fleetwood Mac Tribute (Nov. 5-6) and the Standfields Acoustic Tour (Nov. 16).
The Membertou Trade & Convention Centre has A Tribute to the History of the Eagles on Thursday, the Country Wrap Up on Nov. 22 and the Celtic Serenade jam sessions happening Wednesdays at Kiju's.
At the Savoy Theatre in Glace Bay, PIGS: Canada's Pink Floyd is on stage Oct. 28, comedian Danny Bhoy on Nov. 2, the Legends Remembrance on Nov. 9-10 and the Cape Breton Chordsmen will perform Nov. 17.
Dan MacDonald has been involved with the Cape Breton and East Coast music scene for almost 50 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.